A new study casts serious doubts on the ACT and SAT’s almighty ability to predict college students’ success. Seven years of tracking college grades for students admitted with and without entrance test scores show no real difference in the grades and academic success of students. Come to find out high school GPA was as important in predicting college success (Here is the link to the entire report -- which I've saved for close reading...later). Color me shocked.
How can this possibly surprise anyone? The $2 billion ‘test prep’ industry has seriously compromised any faith in these test scores. Kids whose parents have disposable income can take the tests over and over, learning the tricks. Parents with means, pay for expensive test preparation classes, some of which actually promise a higher test score. Chad Cargill, a test-prep guru, brags about taking the test 18 times, honing his score until he had created a skewed profile of himself for college admission officers.
Skewed, because he deliberately manipulated the system for his own benefit. Gaming the system. Cheating.
Let’s call test preparation…all test preparation…what it is: cheating. Tests are designed to measure what a student knows, without specialized preparation.
I read a book called The Myths of Standardized Tests, by Harris several years ago. On a webinar with the authors, I heard them tell us all test prep is essentially cheating. I can remember I gasped out loud in recognition of what I always suspected. They discussed ACT and SAT testing: “…the tests don’t actually predict achievement in college very well, and the colleges know that.” We all know it now.
Remember the way we took standardized tests? A teacher reminded us the day before to get a good night’s sleep, and to have a good breakfast. We came to school, took the tests, and went back to learning. Months later, the scores appeared and were duly filed away. Those tests measured what we know on the day we were tested.
With high stakes, though, we all do everything we can to raise the numbers, “Up the scores,” because so much is riding on good scores. More from the Harris book: “When students ‘prep’ for the SAT, they undercut its validity as a predictor of first-year college grades – which is all it was ever designed to do…Yet those who take the preparation classes learn these and other techniques that serve to raise scores without making them better readers or better problem solvers – thus corrupting the indicator without improving the target behavior.”
The sacred gate has been stormed. The score has been revealed for what it is…a score. One morning’s work (minus all the test prep). We all bought into the self-interested narrative ACT and SAT were selling…at $50 a test, minus the prep...and kids suffered. And parents spent too much money.
I spent the bulk of my career working with struggling readers and learners…kids who had to work for their grades, kids for whom nothing came easily. Kids whose parents often could not afford the tutors, the test prep classes, the test prep books. Kids who thought that test mattered more than their day-to-day work in the classroom. They were discouraged from considering college if their ‘score’ wasn’t high enough. They were discouraged from even taking the test, because their score wouldn’t be high enough.
Come to find out, college admission should not be one of those high stakes. Come to find out, a student’s grades throughout his high school career show more about his or her learning potential than one test score that can be deliberately manipulated if you can afford it. Color me shocked.
My students who took my elective, Reading for Pleasure, often said they were in class to become better, faster readers…for their ACT. I cringed inside just a bit, knowing I would be contributing to that quest to raise scores. But my students DID become better readers and thinkers and writers in the course of our semester together. And if they could read selections on the ACT faster, have more stamina as they sat for hours during the test, so be it. I was not part of the test prep industry…I was a teacher sharing my love of literature.
I loved ACT and SAT’s response to the study….I can imagine them sputtering as they tried to put a good spin on it…they threw up the ‘grade inflation’ bugbear…without acknowledging the 'score inflation' that occurs when students spend money on test prep and when they take the test over and over.
One more piece of mounting evidence that one test, one day (or ten days or twenty days) cannot accurately capture the worth of a learner…the potential for an academic career.
Color me shocked.